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La misura di tutte le cose: l'avventurosa storia dell'invenzione del… (2002)

di Ken Alder

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8841818,037 (3.77)17
Amidst the chaos of the French Revolution, two intrepid astronomers set out in opposite directions from Paris to measure the world, one voyaging north to Dunkirk, the other south to Barcelona. Their findings would help define the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator, a standard that has since swept the planet. The Measure of All Things is the astonishing story of one of history's greatest scientific quests, a mission to measure the Earth and define the meter for all nations and for all time. Yet when Ken Alder located the long-lost correspondence between the two men, along with their mission logbooks, he stumbled upon a two-hundred-year-old secret, and a drama worthy of the great French playwrights. The meter, it turns out, is in error. One of the two astronomers, Pierre-Francois-Andre Mechain, made contradictory measurements from Barcelona and, in a panic, covered up the discrepancy. The guilty knowledge of his misdeed drove him to the brink of madness, and ultimately to his death. Only then -- after the meter had already been publicly announced -- did his partner, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre, discover the truth and face a fateful choice: what matters more, the truth or the appearance of the truth? To tell the story, Alder has not only worked in archives throughout Europe and America, but also bicycled the entire route traveled by Delambre and Mechain. Both a novelist and a prizewinning historian of science and the French Revolution, Alder summons all his skills to tell how the French Revolution mixed violent passion with the coldest sanity to produce our modern world. It was a time when scientists believed they could redefine the foundations of space and time, creating a thirty-day month, a ten-day week, and a ten-hour day. History, they declared, was to begin anew. But in the end, it was science that was forever changed. The measurements brought back by Delambre and Mechain not only made science into a global enterprise and made possible our global economy, but also revolutionized our understanding of error. Where Mechain conceived of error as a personal failure, his successors learned to tame it. This, then, is a story of two men, a secret, and a timeless human dilemma: is it permissible to perpetuate a small lie in the service of a larger truth? "Precision is a quest on which travelers, as Zeno foretold, journey halfway to their destination, and then halfway again and again and again, never reaching finality. In The Measure of All Things Ken Alder describes a quest that succeeded even as it failed. It is a story for all people, for all time.… (altro)
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  ajapt | Dec 30, 2018 |
This is the true story of two French scientists who triangulated their way up and down the meridian crossing France - during the French Revolution, no less - in order to determine a precise length for the meter. The author, in researching all of this, discovered that not only was there an error in their measurements - rather than being a set one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the North Pole, the first meter was about 200 micrometers too short to meet that definition - but that they had known about it and covered it up. This should be a fascinating book, but to be honest, it was dry almost to the point of being unreadable. I kept having to go back and reread paragraphs over and over again. Finally, a few chapters in, I gave up.
  melydia | Aug 11, 2018 |
Ce professeur d'histoire américain a écrit ici une oeuvre magistrale. Il s'est permis de refaire le trajet à vélo des deux astronomes, Delambre et Méchain. De Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre quittait vers le nord et Pierre-François-André Méchain prenait le chemin du sud. Leur objectif mesurer le monde ou, tout du moins, une partie du méridien terrestre de Dunkerque à Barcelone en passant par Paris. Cela donne un ouvrage historique plein d'humanisme où on comprend mieux l'attachement que les communautés avaient aux mesures «variables» de l'Ancien Régime, où on sent le désespoir d'un homme face à l'erreur, où les savants deviennent des scientifiques, où la mesure de la Terre devient mesure des hommes. Cette incursion dans l'histoire du mètre et de la Révolution qui l'a vu naître était une aventure palpitante.
[http://rivesderives.blogspot.ca/2016/04/mesurer-le-monde-lincroyable-histoire.html] ( )
  GIEL | Apr 20, 2016 |
Une merveilleuse enquête pleine de rigueur et d'esprit sur une évidence... tout sauf évidente. ( )
  Nikoz | May 12, 2015 |
While the French Revolution raged around them, the Royal Academy of Sciences had a plan - to measure the circumference of the world and they knew just the two scientists (astronomers also known as savants) to do it. Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre was to head north from Paris while his partner, Pierre-Francois-Andre Mechain headed south. What was supposed to be a year-long adventure turned into seven but the end result was the definition of the meter and the birth of the metric system. Part biographical, part scientific, part historical and part adventure Alder adds intrigue when he delves into a secret error that only Delambre and Mechain knew about. He goes on to question exactly what is an error and he speculates on the lives of the men who changed the course of weights and measures. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Apr 15, 2015 |
The Measure of All Things is one of the finest narrative histories I have ever read. It is beautifully written throughout, endlessly informative and meticulously documented. . . The result of this diligence, and Alder's brilliance as a writer, is a book which thrills at every level. It is at once a historical detective story, a marvellous demonstration of how science and its social context animate one another, a human drama of the highest order and a parable which proves that - as Protagoras put it 25 centuries ago - 'man is the measure of all things'.
 
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Fabrice showed them his passport indicating he was a barometer salesman travelling with his wares. "This goes too far!" - Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
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For Bronwyn and Madeline

It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
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En juin 1792, alors que la monarchie française vivait ses derniers jours et que la Terre commençait à tourner autour du nouvel axe de l'égalité révolutionnaire, deux astronomes partaient dans des directions opposées, dans une quête extraordinaire.
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Amidst the chaos of the French Revolution, two intrepid astronomers set out in opposite directions from Paris to measure the world, one voyaging north to Dunkirk, the other south to Barcelona. Their findings would help define the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator, a standard that has since swept the planet. The Measure of All Things is the astonishing story of one of history's greatest scientific quests, a mission to measure the Earth and define the meter for all nations and for all time. Yet when Ken Alder located the long-lost correspondence between the two men, along with their mission logbooks, he stumbled upon a two-hundred-year-old secret, and a drama worthy of the great French playwrights. The meter, it turns out, is in error. One of the two astronomers, Pierre-Francois-Andre Mechain, made contradictory measurements from Barcelona and, in a panic, covered up the discrepancy. The guilty knowledge of his misdeed drove him to the brink of madness, and ultimately to his death. Only then -- after the meter had already been publicly announced -- did his partner, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre, discover the truth and face a fateful choice: what matters more, the truth or the appearance of the truth? To tell the story, Alder has not only worked in archives throughout Europe and America, but also bicycled the entire route traveled by Delambre and Mechain. Both a novelist and a prizewinning historian of science and the French Revolution, Alder summons all his skills to tell how the French Revolution mixed violent passion with the coldest sanity to produce our modern world. It was a time when scientists believed they could redefine the foundations of space and time, creating a thirty-day month, a ten-day week, and a ten-hour day. History, they declared, was to begin anew. But in the end, it was science that was forever changed. The measurements brought back by Delambre and Mechain not only made science into a global enterprise and made possible our global economy, but also revolutionized our understanding of error. Where Mechain conceived of error as a personal failure, his successors learned to tame it. This, then, is a story of two men, a secret, and a timeless human dilemma: is it permissible to perpetuate a small lie in the service of a larger truth? "Precision is a quest on which travelers, as Zeno foretold, journey halfway to their destination, and then halfway again and again and again, never reaching finality. In The Measure of All Things Ken Alder describes a quest that succeeded even as it failed. It is a story for all people, for all time.

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